Balderson introduces bipartisan bill to tackle worsening substance abuse crisis

U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) and a bipartisan group of more than 30 lawmakers unveiled legislation aimed at combating the nation’s ongoing opioid and substance abuse crisis, which has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Balderson signed on as an original cosponsor of the Drug-Free Communities Pandemic Relief Act, H.R. 7595, sponsored on July 13 by U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) to provide temporary flexibility for the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program during the pandemic year.

“As the coronavirus pandemic has devastated Ohio, we cannot forget the other ongoing public health crisis we face: the opioid epidemic,” Rep. Balderson said. “Flexibility and relief are necessary for our communities to continue combating youth substance abuse, provide behavioral health support, and protect the well-being of young Ohioans.”

Data indicate a nationwide increase in substance abuse during the pandemic, resulting from increased stress, isolation, job losses, school closures, and other challenges caused by this public health emergency, according to information provided by the congressman’s office.

In addition, communities are less equipped to combat the trend due to a strain on local resources, which have been redirected toward the pandemic, a cycle that is unsustainable, according to the information.

The bill would permit the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy to waive the community match requirement for grantees to receive federal dollars if the community partners are unable to raise the funds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Balderson’s office.

Under the legislation, community-based coalitions unable to meet DFC program match requirements due to the pandemic would temporarily not be required to fulfill match requirements to receive federal grant funding, according to the bill summary, and would allow flexibility during the remainder of the pandemic year so these coalitions may refocus efforts to continue addressing the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis.

Several organizations endorsed H.R. 7595, including the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse, the Association for Addiction Professionals, the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, and the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives, among others.

The measure has been referred for consideration to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.